What is a “Normal-Sized” Wardrobe?

NOTE:  The topic of this post has been revisited in an updated December 2016 post.  To read my updated and expanded thoughts on the topic of a “normal-sized” wardrobe, please CLICK HERE.  


Last week, I received my March issue of Oprah Magazine, with the theme of “De-Clutter Your Life… And Discover the Incredible Lightness of Less.”  One article which caught my eye was “The Closet De-clutterfest for Couples.”  This article profiled a couple who helped each other purge their closets of old and unwanted items.

Husband Mike’s Closet Audit

Inspired by what I read, I suggested to my husband Mike this past weekend that we do some closet de-cluttering ourselves.  Since I regularly review the items in my closet and had done a “mini purge” not long ago, I recommended we tackle his wardrobe first.  He didn’t think we would find too many cast-offs in his closet, but when all was said and done, we had filled two large bags for donation and one large bag of garments to be tossed.   In contrast to my situation, some of Mike’s clothes were actually worn out enough to hit the trash heap instead of the Goodwill.

Mike's closet audit

Husband Mike’s closet – over 100 shirts in there!

Mini-Audit of My Closet – Aiming for 8’s or Higher!

I did a mini-audit of my closet and designated 11 more items for donation (in addition to the 8 items I released at the end of January).  I’m finding myself becoming more and more ruthless in reviewing my over-crowded closet.  I always tell my wardrobe consulting clients that they should aim for 8’s or higher on a scale of 1-10 and I know I need to hold myself to the same rigid standards.  With the overabundance of garments I have, I definitely need to be disciplined and diligent to have any hope of curating the minimalist wardrobe I so deeply crave.

Normal Size Wardrobe?  Let’s Look at the Numbers

After finishing Mike’s closet audit, I asked him if he thinks he has a “normal-sized” wardrobe.  When he quickly replied in the affirmative without much thought, I had an impulse.  I decided to inventory his closet, much like I had done with my wardrobe in late January (chronicled in my “Cold, Hard Facts – What I Have” post).   Surprisingly, I discovered that Mike has almost as many shirts as I do!  Here’s a brief comparison:

  • Mike’s Shirts:  112   (I now have 124 after the recent purge)
  • Mike’s Pants/Shorts:  20   (I have 48 bottoms – skirts/pants)
  • Mike’s Jackets:  10   (I have a whopping 73 coats/jackets/cardigans!)
  • Mike’s Shoes:  12   (in contrast to my 53 – eek!)
  • Mike’s Grand Total:  142   (154 including shoes)
  • My Grand Total:   262 (including dresses), 315 with shoes

As you can see, I have about twice as many items in my closet as Mike does.  No big surprises there…  We all know that my wardrobe is far too large, but is Mike’s wardrobe “normal-sized”?  Is it normal to only wear your shirts an average of three times per year (with 112 shirts, the average number of yearly wears for each is 3.3 times)?  What is a “normal” amount of times to wear your wardrobe pieces? What is a reasonable number of shirts for a person to own?

Optimal Frequency of Wear and Wardrobe Size

I know that there are no absolute right answers to my questions, as the answers are very individual.  In my wardrobe goals, I set 8 times per year as the frequency of wear to which I aspire for my garments and shoes.  With that goal in mind, an optimal number of shirts for me would be 45 (perhaps even fewer if I wear dresses on a regular basis), roughly one third the number of shirts I currently own.   The same number would hold true for outerwear, shoes, and bottoms (pants, skirts, etc.), but I would likely need even fewer of those items since they usually receive more wear.  A good rule of thumb is to have 2-3 times as many top pieces as bottom pieces, as the tops are generally what give our outfits their variety and personality.

In truth, I feel that my ideal frequency of wear number would be 12 or higher (at least once per month on average), so my optimal number of shirts would more likely be around 30.   But I’m taking this one step at a time… If I can end this year with absolutely no “wardrobe benchwarmers(as opposed to my 2012 number of 146!), I will consider myself to have made amazing progress with my wardrobe.

It’s a Matter of Simple Math…

Just doing the simple math I’ve done in this post has been extremely enlightening for me!  In the past, I wondered why I wore many of my garments so infrequently.  I knew I had too much, but now I have a much better idea of how many too much (awkward phrasing, but you get the point…).   Basically, my eventual goal is to have a wardrobe of approximately 120 pieces (counting clothes and shoes), virtually one third the amount I have today.

I may have to keep to my 2013 shopping rules for a few years in order to get there, but I believe it can and will happen!  For now, I will focus on wearing and loving what I have, buying very little, and releasing everything that doesn’t suit my body, lifestyle, or personality.  One day at a time, I will reach my idea of a normal-sized wardrobe!

Recovery Tip

Decide how often you’d ideally like to wear the items in your wardrobe.  Then do the math to determine how much you really need.  The numbers will likely surprise you!

For example, if you want to wear everything in your closet 10 times per year on average, you will only need 36 of each category (tops, bottoms, shoes, outerwear).  You may opt to select different wear frequency goals for your various wardrobe categories (i.e. wear shoes, bottoms, and outerwear more often than tops since we generally have fewer of those items).

I encourage you to try this exercise.  I wish I had done it sooner… If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have over 300 items in my wardrobe!


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Comments

  1. I love these numbers! A new way to think about my wardrobe… so when purchasing, a good question to ask would be “Will I wear this at least 10 times?” And I like how it suggests a total size for your wardrobe (50 pieces of basic clothing, more or less). (I currently have this many pants + skirts!?!)

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Sara, Great question! I think that if people were to ask that question and answer it honestly, some purchasing mistakes could definitely be avoided! I think that most people are unaware of how little they actually wear most of their clothes. Until I started tracking at the beginning of 2011, I thought that more of my clothes were being worn regularly. Tracking what I wear was the first step in my facing my shopping demons. I now know that I really need FAR less than what I have. Like you, I have about 50 bottoms (pants, skirts) alone, when my entire wardrobe really doesn’t need to be much bigger than that! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment – welcome!

  2. I’ve been reading through all your posts. I asked a question on my blog a while ago: how MANY items do you buy each year. Interestingly, no one knew. Thanks for doing all the hard work. I think normal has been redefined as clothing has gotten cheaper and closets bigger.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I read in the book “Overdressed” that the average American buys 64 new garments each year. I’m sure that over the past 10 years, I’ve bought two to three times that number of new clothing items each year! A lot of waste, I’d say! I highly recommend reading “Overdressed” and will likely do a blog post on that book soon. It’s really enlightened me about “fast fashion” and how it affects the environment, the third world countries where our clothes are produced, and our perception of clothing. If I wasn’t already committed to changing my shopping habits, that book would have scared me straight!

  3. I’m curious Debbie, how you track your clothes? (You know how many times you’ve worn things, so I know you have a system!) Could be a good blog post. 🙂

  4. I found that before I had children I was buying what was trendy and only wearing an item a couple times before I stuffed it in the back of my closet. Now that I have kids I think, “Is this versatile (dress up or down), does the color compliment me, will I wear it in two weeks, what else in my closet can I wear it with (how many different bottoms does it go with), can I pack it easy when on vacation? I ask myself all this when I’m shopping. I look for classic-timeless pieces that will work every year, as well as basic layering, casual fitting.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Daphne, Thanks for commenting and sharing your insights. I really like the questions you ask when deciding whether or not to buy something. I think that if people asked these kinds of questions more often, there would be FAR fewer buying mistakes! Check out the shopping tips I included in my latest post as well: http://recoveringshopaholic.com/buyers-remorse/

  5. Applying common sense and math to the emotional connections of clothing as you did is brilliant and works wonders. We look inside our closets and at our wardrobes every single day without really seeing the contents. While my company makes closets that provide a place for everything, it really applies to everything that one treasures. Throwaway clothing worn once then left hanging doesn’t enhance your life at all.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Erika, Welcome and thanks for your comment! Excellent point about the closet designs being for one’s treasures rather than the “throwaway” items that just take up space. I’ve found that when people eliminate the things they aren’t wearing, they become much happier with their wardrobes and it’s a lot easier to put outfits together.

  6. Debbie I’m a guy, in a similar situation to your husband. Can you tell us what he got his reduced to? I just did the inventory this afternoon. Sept. 2013. (results below) Do you have any suggestions on how I should reduce this?
    T-shirts 37
    Button L/S Shirts 24
    Polo Shirts 8
    Button S/S Shirts 6
    L/S Shirts-Sweaters 15
    Pants 15
    Shorts 10
    Church Suits 2
    Swim suits 3
    Jackets (fall/winter) 10
    Shoes 17

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for your comment, JJ. How many clothes a person needs is very individual and depends upon his or her life situation. It sounds like you feel you have too many clothes, but your list doesn’t look too unreasonable. You need to consider how often you ideally want to wear your clothes and work from there. This post links to some great articles on closet culling, so perhaps they might be helpful to you: http://recoveringshopaholic.com/useful-links-on-closet-psychology-wardrobe-management/

      We hadn’t done another closet audit for my husband, but your comment propelled us to do so. He now has 72 total shirts as opposed to 112. His other wardrobe categories (pants, shorts, jackets, shoes) are much the same, but there has been some in/out movement there as well. He feels an idea number of shirts for his life would be around 40, so he still has too much, but as things wear out or he no longer likes or wears them, they will be weeded out. Both of us are buying a lot less and focusing on higher quality items. Sometimes it takes a while to cultivate a minimalist, manageable wardrobe, but it CAN be done! Best of luck to you with your process!

  7. In my experience there is no such thing as normal. One person’s large closet is someone elses small one. Depends on your lifestyle and the activities you undertake.

    I do love your concept of it having to be over an 8 to earn a place in your wardrobe!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Imogen. You would definitely know there is no such thing as normal, as I know you’ve been in hundreds of closets! It is definitely an “it depends” thing and not always easy to figure out. I find I’m wanting less and less as time goes on (and we’ve pared my husband’s wardrobe down considerably since I wrote this article). I still have a few items that are not “8”s or higher in my closet, but they’re just there as “placeholders” until I find suitable replacements. My standards are increasing, too!

  8. Hoping to get your closet down so you can wear every item 10 times a year?…I have enough I can go roughly about 2 weeks before I re-wear a shirt. I wear pretty much 1 pair of jeans with the rare shirt or colored pair of jeans thrown in every now and then. I own 5 pairs of shoes plus a couple slippers. A few dresses I never wear, probably about 10 jackets or so. If I had a wardrobe as big as your husbands I would feel like a queen, not “normal”. I don’t know what I would do with a wardrobe as big as yours, probably start clothing the masses in my kingdom for free.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Rachel. Sounds like you have a wardrobe size that really works for you. Both my husband and I have pared down our wardrobes considerably since I wrote this post last year. We probably have “clothed the masses,” as we’ve donated a lot of our cast-offs to charity. We both like still have too many clothes, but we’re moving in the right direction. It’s far easier, though, to not let things get out of hand in the first place. Good for you for keeping the size of your wardrobe at a manageable level!

  9. I doesn’t matter how much clothes you have if you don’t wear most clothes or some of your clothes is a little too big. When it comes down to it you have your favorite clothes and find yourself wearing them over and over while other clothes you wear on occasion. So its better to have less clothes that you actually wear that fit you and your style as opposed to owning lots of clothes you never wear. For underwear and socks its best to own a lot of them so you don’t have to worry about doing laundry so often. For workout/gym clothes its best to own a lot of them because you should only wear them once and then put them in the wash. If you wear them twice you would smell working out and nobody wants that.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kurt. You made some great points and you made me chuckle with that last part! Most people only wear 20-30% of their clothes, so you’re right that it’s better to have less and actually wear what you like and what fits you well. There is no optimal number of all people, but it’s beneficial for all of us to find the right wardrobe size for us so we can better use what we have.

  10. My husband has been one of my inspirations for continuing to purge my wardrobe. He truly has a minimal wardrobe (2 work trousers, 3 jeans, a dozen button down shirts, you get the idea). When he shops, he purchases a number of items at a time, which greatly refreshes his wardrobe, and when he purges, most of the items are not in a good enough shape to donate. I don’t expect my wardrobe to consist of only 2 pairs of work trousers (I need a little more variety than that) but it demonstrates to me that a smaller wardrobe is achievable, and functional, and with a smaller wardrobe, since you wear more of the items, less money is wasted.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It’s great that you have such a positive role model in your husband, Lisa! Perhaps you can eventually reach a happy medium between your current wardrobe and the way he does things. Both my husband and I have pared things down considerably since I wrote this post a year ago. His wardrobe is now in excellent shape and mine is well on the way. Slow and steady is how the best changes happen!

      • Slow and steady indeed. Poor hubby has listened and watched me struggle with my closet for so long, he came up with a challenge. On the blog youlookfab, in the forum, I’ve written a series of posts that start with the title ‘DH Closet Challenge.’ But be warned, they are rather lengthy. Essentially he came up with a twist for me and 4 months later, I’m still going strong.

        I like to repeat outfits, I’m fascinated with Parisian (and European in general) wardrobes (which are smaller than US one’s because of closet sizes). So the challenge was to take everything out of the closet. And then slowly add items back in as I wore them. The catch is, try to keep the item number as low as possible. Before I started the challenge, I would have guessed I needed say, at least 7 pairs of bottoms, one for each day of the week. Not true, I was fine with less than that. I am four months in, and I’ve been going through our extremely cold and snowy winter season, with only 52 items! And that includes 17 of these items that are gear (thermals, workout clothing, or horseback riding clothing). This means my ‘working wardrobe’ is actually even smaller, about 35 items. This is FAR less than I would have guessed before starting his challenge.

        One step I haven’t gotten to yet, is what to do with the rest of the items? I’ve purged a few pieces as I tired of them, and I’ll continue to add items once our seasons change, but I probably have another year’s worth of clothing (if not more) in my ’boutique’ which I’ve also seen referred to as a ‘holding zone’ on blogs.

        A nice bonus to this challenge, is now I have a baseline of how much I need to own and how ‘minimal’ my wardrobe can be in size. Half the battle for me was figuring out the number to own, so now I know how many things to keep once I purge the excess (baby steps though).

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I love the challenge that your husband came up with! I did something similar after completing Project 333 last summer. I could only bring things back into my closet (everything had been boxed up while I did Project 333) after I wore them. I was able to purge quite a few things that way! I got the idea from an article I read last year about a man who did that (he had a main closet and a second closet and only brought things into the main closet after he wore them).

          Your “boutique” concept and the “DH Challenge” are more sophisticated and I really it. I need to go back and read all of your posts to get an idea of how it’s progressed for you. Are you going to purge the things you don’t wear at the end of each season? Or are you going to give it some more time to really understand what you do and don’t love and wear? I love these kinds of challenges! I also like the Parisian wardrobe concept, too, but I’m still far away from that! I’m not sure what an optimal wardrobe size is for me and my life. I’m getting closer, but still not there. Maybe in a year or two… Good luck with your continued challenge!

  11. I love this idea. My closet is way too full. I gain and lose weight so I have something for every size. Maybe taking out everything I have and only adding back what I wear would be a good starting place. That way, at least the only things there would be what fits. If I lose weight and stop wearing something, it can go back out and visa versa. Any suggestions for storing clothing in between if I don’t have a second closet.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Terri. I live in a small apartment and don’t have a lot of closet space, either. I used under the bed boxes and stacking bins in which I folded a lot of clothes. I did this while I was doing Project 333 and after that challenge, I only brought pieces back into my closet after I wore them. Lisa (who commented above) stored like items in shopping bags so it was easy for her to go through them. I didn’t do that, but think it’s a good idea for next time. As for the items you’re saving due to weight fluctuations, make sure you only keep things you see yourself wearing again. Perhaps you’re tired of some of it or find it’s out of style. Those pieces should be donated or consigned so you don’t have to take up valuable storage space holding on to them.

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